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The Dark Lady by Akala #BookReview


Henry is an orphan, an outsider, a thief. He is also a fifteen-year-old invested with magical powers …

This brilliant, at times brutal, first novel from the amazing imagination that is Akala, will glue you to your seat as you are hurled into a time when London stank and boys like Henry were forced to find their own route through the tangled streets and out the other side.

The Dark Lady by Akala book cover

Title: The Dark Lady | Author: Akala | Publisher: Hodder Chidren’s Books | Pub. Date: 16th April 2020 | Pages: 336 | ISBN: 9781444943696 | Genre: Kids Fantasy | Language: English | Starred Review: No | Source: The publisher provided a copy for review consideration

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The Dark Lady Review

‘The Dark Lady’ is a novel for children that features an intriguing blend of historical adventure and fantasy. It’s written by rapper and Shakespearean scholar Akala and draws on his knowledge of the bard and Elizabethan London, as well as his experiences growing up black in the UK. This is his first novel, although he has written non-fiction, including the excellent ‘Natives’, which eloquently unpacks attitudes to race in post-imperial Britain.

It’s a good attempt at creating a kid’s book that informs as well as entertains. The book has a great sense of place. I don’t know enough about the subject to comment with authority, but the depiction of16th century London felt real and was certainly vibrant and richly colourful. The hero of the tale is a teenage pickpocket named Henry who has the magical ability to read any text, no matter the language it is written in. When this ability is discovered, he is forced to help a nobleman translate the texts he owns.

Henry isn’t the only character with magical abilities, there are also healers, but his talents are certainly not common and the mystery around them and his absent mother infuses the book. The other key theme is race. Henry is black and his treatment by other characters, which ranges from outright hostility to a dismissive refusal to believe that he has any intelligence or value, give the book many of its most effective moments. It’s the kind of institutional bigotry that still infects British society centuries later, and which Akala wrote about so effectively in ‘Natives’.   

So the book does place brilliantly, has a strong and engaging lead (and a good supporting cast), an interesting take on magic and some well thought through and conveyed messages. Unfortunately, what it lacks is a strong plot. The story is fine, but it never really gripped me, and it certainly isn’t a match for the book’s better qualities. This is a novel that feels very much like part one of a longer story. It never really gets going, with too much time spent on scene setting and not enough action. There is certainly a lot about it that I really liked, but the lack of a compelling narrative was disappointing.

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inFantasy Book ReviewsKids FantasyKids' Book ReviewsUnstarred Reviews

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